ORLANDO, Fla. — Latavious Williams will have to continue to wait his turn.
The NBA dreams of one of the most promising prospects the Thunder has stashed away are stuck in a holding pattern, and the 2012-13 season doesn't appear to be the year he'll make it to Oklahoma City.
Williams is a former second-round pick in 2010 who the Thunder acquired in a draft-night trade. He's an athletic 6-foot-8 power forward who made headlines in 2009 for becoming the first player to go from high school straight to the NBA D-League.
He was drafted into the D-League by the Thunder-owned Tulsa 66ers as the 16th overall pick. But he's found that reaching the next step is the most challenging obstacle he's faced in his career.
For now, all he can do is remain patient.
“I've been patient this long so I'm just going to keep it rolling and just do what I've got to do and see what's next,” Williams said.
Williams is short on options.
He can join the Thunder for training camp in the fall and compete for a roster spot. But the Thunder already has 15 players under contract, and Williams would have to beat out partially guaranteed forward Hollis Thompson for the final spot. If he doesn't, the Thunder would have to waive him and Oklahoma City would lose his rights, making Williams a free agent.
The main alternative is again playing overseas, where Williams competed last season as a member of the Spanish club Joventut.
Taking the overseas route is the more lucrative option, and the one Williams on Thursday said he prefers over another stint in the D-League — where he could continue his development under close supervision while awaiting a potential call-up by the Thunder next season.
But as the Thunder's 15-man roster gets more difficult to crack, Williams has found it more difficult to not be frustrated. It's been so tough for Williams to not be in the NBA that he said reporting to camp and getting cut doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “But right now I don't mind because I can try out with another team or just do whatever from there.”
When you watch Williams run the floor and spring off the court for rebounds and blocked shots, it becomes hard to ignore his natural abilities. He has gobs of talent and is still just 23, suggesting he's years away from realizing his full potential.
“Tay has all the talent in the world to make it to this level,” said Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant, who is coaching OKC's summer league team in Orlando.
“If he plays with a constant motor, he'll be fine.”
That's part of Williams' problem.
His raw talent isn't enough to warrant a spot on a championship contender, and he's still prone to stretches of inconsistency.
There are days like Tuesday, when Williams came off the bench against Indiana to score 10 points and grab six of his game-high nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of work.
Then there are days like Thursday, when Williams had four points and four rebounds in 22 minutes against Brooklyn. He took a team-low three shot attempts and looked like the odd man out on offense despite the Thunder playing without cogs Reggie Jackson and Cole Aldrich (rest), or Lazar Hayward (flu-like symptoms) and Perry Jones III (sprained ankle).
“It's all about what Tay does,” Bryant said. “He has to work on his game morning, noon and night. I think he's definitely gotten better since he's been here.”
Williams' athleticism makes him a ferocious rebounder. It's currently his most NBA-ready skill. But there seems to be so much more room for growth.
Since starting his professional career, Williams has bulked up and become even more physical. But the absence of a consistent jumper, the ability to create his own shot off the dribble or defend the perimeter has held Williams back. Developing those three areas would be asking a lot, but if he implemented them his value would skyrocket in the states like it has after just a year overseas. It also would allow Williams to be a true combo forward, meaning he could play minutes as a small forward or power forward.
“Right now, it's about just getting better and improving my game,” Williams said.
While he does, it seems the NBA will have to wait.